New Research Shows What Baby’s Coos & Cries Say About Language

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Baby’s coos and babbles aren’t just cute: turns out that new research from the University of Würzburg shows just how quickly babies develop vocalization or speech patterns.

Even though your newborn can’t talk, in the first six months of life they’re well on their way to developing lifelong speech skills. According to this new study, during baby’s first half-year, the complexity of their speech melody (also known as prosody) is growing more and more complex.

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photo: Cleyder Duque via Pexels

Kathleen Wermke, Professor at the Würzburg University Hospital at the Department of Orthodontics and Head of the Center for Pre-speech Development and Developmental Disorders, explained the research, “Every language is characterized by specific musical elements, which we call prosody.” Wermke continued, “We have found a clear developmental pattern towards more complexity.”

Researchers analyzed more than 67,000 sounds made by 277 babies in their first six months. These sounds included cry vocalizations, cooing, and babbling. The study found that the complexity the melodies in both cry and non-cry vocalizations increased from birth through six months.

There was a brief regression found around ages four to five months. Wermke explained, “During this time, infants expand their repertoire of vocalic utterances to include new components that interact with the overall melodic contour, namely vowel- and consonant-like elements.” The researcher went on to add, “This new developmental period evidently causes a temporary ‘regression’ in melody development to establish vocal development on a higher hierarchical level. Thereafter, the infant begins to intentionally imitate intonation patterns of the surrounding language(s) in consonant-vowel syllable sequences in babbling.”

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How can the results of this research help your baby? The new vocal developmental model may contribute to the growing body of communication knowledge and could help scientists to create new therapies for children at risk for some types of language disorders.

—Erica Loop

 

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